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January 18, 2019

Planners recommend denial of Islamic retreat on farm

Ultimately, we believe if God is in favor of it, he will let it happen. If He doesn’t want it to happen, it won’t.
— Organization Spokesman Harris Zafar
Public Hearing
• Topic: Special exception permit to allow an annual, three-day spiritual retreat for a maximum 5,000 people and up to three, annual three-day events for a maximum 1,000 each at Meetze and Turkey Run roads southeast of Warrenton.

• When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17.

• Agency: Fauquier County Planning Commission.

• Length: 1 and 40 minutes.

• Speakers: 37, with 29 opposing, six supporting the application and two who supported the idea but apparently remained undecided about the site’s suitability for the proposed use.

• Action: Commission voted, 5-0, to recommend denial of the special exception permit application.

• Where: Warren Green Building, 10 Court St., Warrenton.

• Applicant: Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam Inc. USA, Silver Spring, Md.

• Property owners: Terrina M. Baker and Richard B. Wheeler, Oak Creek Farm LLC.

• Zoning: Rural.

• Next: The planning commission serves as an advisory panel to the county board of supervisors, which has final authority. The board plans to conduct a public hearing on the project Thursday, Feb.14.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
In the end, they think a higher power will decide the fate of the proposed Islamic spiritual retreat southeast of Warrenton.

“Ultimately, we believe if God is in favor of it, he will let it happen,” Harris Zafar explained Thursday night, after the Fauquier County Planning Commission unanimously recommended denial of Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam Inc. USA’s special exception permit application to conduct a spiritual retreat for a maximum 5,000 people and three events for up to 1,000 people on 515.6 acres at Meetze and Turkey Run roads.

The annual events would last three days.

“If He doesn’t want it to happen, it won’t,” said Mr. Zafar, spokesman for the Silver Spring, Md.-based nonprofit, which has 17,000 members nationwide. “No harm, no foul.”

If the effort fails in Fauquier, the organization will search elsewhere for a permanent site for the events, he said.

“I feel really disheartened” over the commission’s recommendation,” Rafiq Sayed, the organization’s property secretary, said after the meeting. “It’s a sad day. We’ll go back and pray some more, ask for God’s guidance.”

The organization also will explore its options, Mr. Sayed explained.

They include moving the application forward to the county board of supervisors, which will have final authority on the special exception permit request; postponing it to work with staff and the community to address concerns and withdrawing, modifying and resubmitting the application, he said.

The supervisors could conduct a Feb. 14 public hearing on the project.

Meantime, the group “absolutely” remains open to discussing the project with the community, Mr. Zafar added.

The planning commission’s public hearing, which took place Thursday night in Warrenton, lasted an hour and 40 minutes.

About 150 people crowded the Warrenton Green Building meeting room, two conference rooms, the hallway and stairs.

Thirty-seven people spoke during the hearing, with 29 opposing, six supporting the application and two who supported the idea but apparently had no opinion on the site’s suitability for the proposed use.

Many opponents said they support the idea of the spiritual retreat, which would feature prayer, speakers and food, but consider the scale of the proposed activities incompatible with the predominantly rural and residential area.

Many focused on traffic issues, arguing Meetze Road couldn’t safely handle the additional vehicles the events would attract.

They also raised noise, lighting, property value, water use and wastewater disposal issues related to the proposal.

Some fear the events, if approved, would attract more people than allowed and questioned the county’s ability to enforce that and other conditions of the special exception permit.

Mr. Zafar gave the commission an overview of the organization and sought to correct misinformation about the proposed events.

The worldwide nonprofit organization established a United States presence in 1920.

It has about 17,000 members across the country and operates dozens of mosques, including two in Northern Virginia.

“We have been at the forefront of confronting religious extremism and serving our local communities in 74 chapters around the country as law-abiding citizens of this great nation,” Mr. Zafar said.

He described the proposed annual convention, which would allow a maximum 5,000 people on the site per day, as a family-friendly event that would draw a diverse group.

“These are black, white, Hispanic, from Asia and all parts of the world in terms of their background,” Mr. Zafar said.

Those who claim the organization hates Christians, America or “American culture are simply wrong,” he said.

The group also would not sacrifice animals at the proposed site, Mr. Zafar said.

“Nothing of the sort was put in our application,” he stressed.

Aware of traffic concerns, the organization would “implement everything the county recommends” to address them, Mr. Zafar said.

The group also will hire law enforcement officers to help “ensure smooth traffic control” and “safety,” he said.

Alcohol and music would be prohibited on the property.

The plan calls for no new permanent structures, according to the application. The proposed site includes two single-family homes and several farm structures and outbuildings.

Microphones and speakers only would be used in the tents to accommodate activities, Mr. Zafar said.

“There will be less disturbance than if someone had a rooster on their property,” he said of noise caused by events.

In response to concerns that “farmland lost is farmland lost forever” — as one speaker put it later in the hearing — Mr. Zafar noted that 80 to 100 acres of the site would be affected by the proposed use.

“I think they’ve got the right idea,” Eric Brener, who lives on Windhaven Lane, which adjoins the proposed site, said of the proposal. “I think they’ve got the wrong location. And here’s why.”

On event days, vehicles entering the site could create a five-mile back up along Meetze Road, Mr. Brener said.

If the nonprofit ultimately buys the site, the county would collect no real estate taxes on the property, he said.

Those attending events would remain onsite all day and therefore put nothing into the local economy, Mr. Brener suggested.

“I’m not seeing how they are a benefit from a taxpayers’ standpoint,” he said.

Like others, John Griffin, who also lives on Windhaven Lane, spoke about the combined traffic effects of the proposed retreat, the annual Fauquier County Fair and the planned Central Sports Complex on Meetze Road.

If those activities occur at the same time, they would produce a “continuous, treacherous and untenable situation on Meetze Road,” Mr. Girffin said.

The organization’s proposed 5,000-person-per-day annual “convention” probably would take place in July, as does the four-day county fair, Mr. Griffin said.

Four of the planned 11 sports fields could be completed and in use by August. The 74-acre complex’s main entrance will be on Meetze Road.

The organization’s proposed events also could “destabilize” the area and devalue real estate, according to Mr. Griffin.

Before hearing started, planning commission Chairman John Meadows (Lee District) told speakers their remarks should be limited to related land-use issues.

The commission wouldn’t “tolerate” remarks dealing with “religion or race,” Mr. Meadows said. “We want to be civil at all times.”

Only three times, did Mr. Meadows have to remind speakers to stick to the subject.

Gar Schulin, who lives near Warrenton, shares the concerns of other critics.

But, “above all else, I would say that my deepest concerns are the safety of our community, the security of our community and of this group — however well-intentioned they may be,” Mr. Schulin said. “I’ve heard 15 minutes of proselytizing in their opening remarks and in their written application.

“But if they’re also targets of violence, that’s a potential liability for our community, tranquil community.”

Calmly interrupting, Mr. Meadows warned Mr. Schulin: “Careful where you go.”

Ending his remarks, Mr. Schulin urged the commission to recommend denial of the application.

Scott Christian, who lives on Winchester Road (Route 17) south of Marshall, spoke in support of the application.

“At present, Fauquier County is home to a Sikh worship center, as well as at least two Buddhist communities,” Mr. Christian told the commission. “I think it would be an important moral statement for our community to embrace its first Muslim faith community,” because “our future depends” on the “strength that diversity brings.”

He also touched on traffic, speaking about his 15 years’ experience as a volunteer for the annual Delaplane Strawberry Festival, which takes place in Sky Meadows State Park off Winchester Road (Route 17).

The busy two-lane road links John S. Mosby Highway (Route 50) near Paris and Interstate 66.

Besides selling strawberries, the popular festival in 2018 featured live music, children’s games, hayrides, pony rides, a 4-H petting zoo, crafts, strolling entertainers and a 5-k trail run.

“Over the years, we had over 1,000 cars,” with many making left turns, crossing the southbound lane of Winchester Road, to enter the park, Mr. Christian said.

Largely because of skillful traffic management, he “was always impressed with how smoothly that occurred.”

Moments before Thursday’s vote, Planning Commissioner Matthew Smith, whose Cedar Run District includes the proposed site, explained his opposition to the proposal.

It doesn’t conform to the county comprehensive plan, “specifically some of the goals . . . aimed at persevering agricultural areas and the rural character of the county and preserving and protecting open space and scenic beauty,” Mr. Smith said reading a motion to recommend denial of the application.

The project would “adversely affect neighboring properties because of (its) visual impact, noise, light and traffic,” Mr. Smith said.

The proposed events specifically would “have a negative impact on existing and anticipated traffic” on Meetze Road, he added.

The site’s proposed entrance on Meetze Road near an S-curve “could lead to accidents,” Mr. Smith said.

While the organization “was very well-intentioned . . . unfortunately, I believe the location is not an appropriate one,” Planning Commissioner Bob Lee (Marshall) said.

Like several speakers, Mr. Lee said of the proposal: “This is the right thing in the wrong location.”

The organization has a contract to buy the property from Terrina M. Baker and Richard B. Wheeler and Oak Creek Farm LLC for $3.8 million, Mr. Zafar said.

The Fauquier site appeals to the group because it provides an open environment and relatively easy access to Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports, which out-of-town members would use to attend the convention.

The Northern Virginia area also has plenty of hotel rooms, restaurants and other services to accommodate people attending the retreat, according to the organization.

The organization conducted the first convention in 1948 in Dayton, Ohio. The convention has taken place in Harrisburg, Pa., for the last 10 years. Prior to that, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community held it at the Dulles Expo Center on Route 28 near Chantilly.

Contact Don Del Rosso at or 540-270-0300.

AppMaterials SOJ AMC-Jalsa by on Scribd

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Jill Basile · January 22, 2019 at 12:19 pm
We moved out to the "country" to get away from crowds of people and traffic.
Truepat · January 21, 2019 at 6:28 am
I commend the Planning Commission for staying with the business of business and to upholding the guidelines that Fauquier County has established with regards to zoning and compliance. The obvious "impact" an event with this many people, regardless if it's for a religious event or a 3 day rock concert, would affect all Fauquier County taxpayers in one form or another. Obvious research was not done on the applicants part as to the odds of Fauquier County changing it's agriculture zoning or how limited the roads and infrastructure are at this location. It's not a matter of God's will, but adhering to the laws and regulations we all live by.
Cammie Rodgers · January 20, 2019 at 8:34 pm
sharlene - Agreed, to allow ourselves to be brainwashed in this day and age is unfathomable.
sharlene · January 20, 2019 at 10:22 am
I look forward to the day when religious nonsense does not dictate our lives. The wars, the divisions that occur over religious differences, it's ridiculous. Religions were borne from the desire to control the masses. They are not real. We are far more advanced than these fairy tales allow for.
Virtus · January 19, 2019 at 3:40 pm
UK event site expansion concerns: mounts over Oaklands Farm plans§ionIs=news&searchyear=2018
Virtus · January 19, 2019 at 10:58 am
George Washington as quoted by Jeffersonian American sums it up: “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led like sheep to the slaughter.”
Jeffersonian American · January 19, 2019 at 9:23 am
It should be noted the Applicant’s pitch to the Fauquier County Planning Commission, both in their written application on file and in their opening presentation at the hearing, focused almost entirely on their Islamic religion, not the “Land Use” issues of their application. Yet, at the hearing, the Fauquier County Planning Commission Chair explicitly stated this application was not about religion or race, but about land use issues; and any comments about religion “…will not be tolerated.”

With these words, the citizens of Fauquier County present were silenced under threat of dismissal from the podium- and denied their First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution- to express their very real and genuine concerns of the specific beliefs of the religion being advocated by the Applicants being relevant factors as to the suitability of this Applicant, a global Islamic organization, to establish a permanent, 515-acre compound in Fauquier County with all implications such a huge foreign-entity influx of outsiders to our local community would forever impact our traditional American quality of life. That the Applicant utilized nearly all their public hearing time to advocate and indoctrinate their religion and beliefs while the local government official strongly forbade and denied Fauquier citizens to engage in an equal-opportunity, factual discussion of that religion- was a truly despicable and unlawful silencing of the free speech rights of those citizens present who wished to speak to those facts as they directly related to this specific application. An Applicant who would misrepresent their religious text to Fauquier citizens cannot be fully trusted to gain approval for their large commercial development project, much less abide by laws and conditions pertaining to such an approval. Again, the Applicant at the hearing threw down their gauntlet in the faces of the Fauquier citizens by discussing and advocating for their Islamic religion- a religion whose underlying goal is to dominate every culture and society they infiltrate- a widely documented fact. The presiding government official then denied Fauquier citizens their constitutional right of free speech to engage in the application relevant details of that religion. This act was an abomination of the public hearing process and a violation of the First Amendment rights of Fauquier citizens. It also demonstrated the Applicant’s use of Quran teaching of “Taqiyya,” that lying to infidels for expediency to advance and protect Islam is both a virtue and a duty. In this religion, it is also documented fact they are on record Jihadism by the pen is on equal footing with Jihadism by the sword. Islam is Islam regardless of sect, and it has been demonstrated wholly incompatible with our Western Civilization and our American culture and way of life:

Is this kind of major project and permanent importation of a foreign culture’s belief system to dominate our local society into submission to non-Constitutional Sharia Law improving our local Fauquier County community traditional American quality of life? Very clearly, many relevant Land Use and compelling religious issues reside with this Applicant and this application. Despite the façade of peace, love, brotherhood and justice, this Applicant’s global organization and its Fauquier hearing spokesman cannot properly cover up what it truly is:

Constitutional Law specialist and litigator, Karen Lugo, notes in her book, MOSQUES IN AMERICA: A Guide to Accountable Permit Hearings and Continuing Citizen Oversight (p.173), “An important, but rarely utilized, American free speech legal doctrine is the First Amendment-based prohibition against prior restraint… This means that government may not, discretionarily, create ad-hoc rules to silence points of view that they do not want to hear. Legally speaking, government may not restrict speech based upon content or viewpoint.” George Washington reminds us, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led like sheep to the slaughter.”

Most importantly, I believe anyone who, after the disastrous, very damaging and dramatic rise of Islam inside our nation over the past 70 years which have corroded our domestic peace and American way of life to include countless hostile attacks on innocent Americans; or some other equally revealing incident- specifically the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on our American soil- continues to speak in support of Islam or in terms of sympathy for Islamicists, is either very misinformed or very dangerous.

Thomas Jefferson observed, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
Virtus · January 18, 2019 at 7:37 pm
To provide your comments to the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors in advance of the hearing and to check the schedule- Feb 14 @ 6:30 pm:

Go to Contact Us section for the
Virtus · January 18, 2019 at 7:28 pm

Regarding the septic, the applicant proposes using portable sanitary trailers, a storage tank and pump and haul. As to permanent structures I believe that the applicant proposed one or more storage buildings.

The application materials & written comments:
Cammie Rodgers · January 18, 2019 at 7:04 pm
"The organization has a contract to buy the property from Terrina M. Baker and Richard B. Wheeler and Oak Creek Farm LLC for $3.8 million, Mr. Zafar said."

Perhaps there is a condition on the contract if they aren't able to hold events as wanted the contract is void. It was definitely kept under the radar from the neighbors.
DonkeyFarmer · January 18, 2019 at 6:27 pm
I hope that this group heard our concerns and realizes this is not the place for their convention. This is a rural community that wants to keep it that way.

It's sad that the owner Wheeler was not a good farmer, destroyed the land by clear-cutting it, then tried to offload it to a group to hold 5,000 persons convention in his muddy fields. Shows he has no concern for his neighbors.

The article states that the group is "absolutely" open to discussing this project with the community.... Well, it's a little late for that. This should have been done before the Planning Commission hearing. They were notified on December 4th that their application was preceding forward and the date and time of the meeting. Why did they wait until the last possible moment to notify neighbors? Last possible moment to post signs at the property that were barely visible and would necessitate stopping on busy Meetze Rd to even read them? There was no contact information for their group. Maybe a community meeting BEFORE this Planning Commission hearing. You see, when you get a letter in the mail that 5,000 people want to hold a 3 day convention in your backyard and in 13 days there will be a meeting about it.... you are already on the defensive. The time to talk to the community about this was before that. I know I would have been more receptive to it. This group needs to fire their P.R. guy.
Cammie Rodgers · January 18, 2019 at 4:10 pm
"The plan calls for no new permanent structures, according to the application." How many temporary structures were/are planned, and for how long? What about septic and water use? Will they be tying up the closest cell tower for phone and computer use?
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